Our 5 favourite Speech and Language Activities for Early Years

Language is one of the six development streams at My First Five Years. Language is a skill that crosses over with and supports learning across all six of the My First Five Years streams.

When supporting learning around speech and language development, many simple activities can be done with your child. These can be adapted based on your child's interests, stage of development and the time that you have together. Here are some of our favourite activities to help your child build their speech and language skills at My First Five Years.

 

Promoting Communication: 20 Questions

‘20 questions’ is a simple communication game that has been around forever – and it is also equipment free! It’s often a go-to for long car or train journeys to keep little minds occupied but can be played with the entire family.

How does this activity support speech and language development?

It’s great for promoting turn-taking in conversation, which is a key element of speech and language development. As well as this, it is also an opportunity for children to practice using different types of speech, in the form of questions. [1]

How do I do this activity with my child?

To play 20 questions, one person thinks up a mystery object – this could be an animal, a toy, a type of food, or anything else that springs to mine. If playing one-on-one, the other person asks questions that can only be answered with a “yes” or “no” to try and unveil the mystery object. If there are more than two players, one person still chooses a mystery object, but the other players can work as a team to figure it out.

Grandfather pointing

 

Semantic Development and Vocabulary: ‘I spy…’

Like 20 questions, I spy is a classic game that requires no equipment, resources or tools. It is another game that has become a staple of long journeys for families.

How does this activity support speech and language development?

‘I spy…’ is a game that will have your child listening to descriptions, and like in a game of 20 questions, they will be learning how to take turns in conversation. Descriptive language creation also plays a large part and will help them develop a stronger understanding of semantics. (The meanings of words, word categories and exclusionary terms such as “not”. [2])

How do I do this activity with my child?

Luckily ‘I spy…’ is pretty straightforward, playable both in a group or one-on-one. In the game, one person is usually the ‘spy’. They will look around the environment for a mystery object and will decide on it whilst keeping it a secret from the other players. The other players will then take turns trying to decipher the object by asking questions about the object, such as “is it big?”, “is it blue?”, before making a guess. The person who guessed correctly will then take over as the ‘spy’.

Mother and Toddler

 

Language Development: Tongue Twisters

Tongue twisters are another activity that doesn’t need any resources. They are fun phrases that might be tricky to say and might result in a few giggles for you and your child!

How does this activity support speech and language development?

Tongue twisters usually focus on certain sounds – for example, “Peter Piper picked a pickled pepper” concentrates on the ‘p’ sound, one that can sometimes be tricky for children to say. If there are any sounds that your child might be having difficulty with, tongue twisters can be a great way to practice them. For example, if they are having trouble with the ‘b’ sound, practice tongue twisters that feature this sound.

As well as focusing on sounds, tongue twisters can improve fluency in spoken language and auditory discrimination. This is when children can distinguish between words and sounds that are similar, such as ‘cat’ and ‘cot’. [3]

How do I do this activity with my child?

There are many common tongue twisters that you can practise with your child, and you could even have a go at making up your own together. To begin with, it might be easier to slow down and break down tongue twister phrases whilst your child builds up confidence in saying them. As they become more fluent, you could add challenge by using a timer to see how many times you can say them correctly within a time frame, making it a game between yourselves.

 

Social Interaction: DIY Telephone

During pretend play, you might notice your child picking up objects and acting as though they are on the telephone – they may even mimic phrases that you or other familiar adults say to one another during phone calls!

With your child, you could work together to make your own telephone for pretend play.

How does this activity support speech and language development?

Pretend play has a huge impact on speech and language skills in young children. They may use language during role play that they may not use in their daily lives and may even experiment with vocabulary and intonation in a way that they might not do when being ‘themselves’.

As well as this, pretending to be on the phone mimics adult conversation, so like some of the other activities previously mentioned, your child will be taking turns, and listening out for responses. [4]

How do I do this activity with my child?

There are many ways in which you can do this activity with your child. Depending on your child’s stage of development and interests, you may decide to do it in different ways. For instance, some children might want to make an old-fashioned tin and string telephone to play with you, where you thread string through the bases of two tin cans.

Some children might want to make something that feels more modern, with a more open-ended aspect. With your child, you could create a phone using ‘junk’ such as old boxes, bottle tops and other objects that you might find in the recycling box.

 

Attention, Listening: Musical Statues

Musical Statues is an old party game that has been played throughout the decades. It can be played in groups of pretty much any size and can be adapted in a variety of ways.

How does this activity support speech and language development?

A major aspect of Musical Statues is listening and attention. If your child isn’t able to pay attention to their surroundings and listen to the music, they will soon be eliminated from the game! Listening and attention is a huge aspect of speech and language development and early conversation skills. [5]

How do I do this activity with my child?

All that you need for Musical Statues is a group of children (and adults could even join in if they wanted to) and a method of playing music. Play the music and pause it at different intervals. If someone moves while the music is paused, they are eliminated from the game!

 


References

[1] NHS Speech and Language Therapy. (2015). Speech and Language Therapy Early Years Resource Pack. Available: https://childrenshealthsurrey.nhs.uk/application/files/9415/2153/8491/Resource-pack-part-2-Dec-15.pdf.

[2] Washington Parent Trust. (2021). What does playing I Spy accomplish?. Available: https://www.parenttrust.org/for-families/parenting-advice/parentingtips/early-learning/i-spy/.

[3] Kevin Stuckey, M.Ed., CCC-SLP. (2021). Tongue Twisters as a Therapy Tool. Available: http://www.handyhandouts.com/viewHandout.aspx?hh_number=222.

[4] Myae Han. (2021). The Power of Pretend Play in Language & Literacy Learning. Available: https://thegeniusofplay.org/genius/expert-advice/articles/the-power-of-pretend-play-in-language-and-literacy-learning.aspx#.YXKC5hzTW3A.

[5] Eleanor Johnson. (2021). Learning to Listen. Available: https://www.teachearlyyears.com/learning-and-development/view/learning-to-listen.